After a dung beetle arrives on a dung pile, it painstakingly cobbles together a snowball of dung larger than itself. Then it climbs up onto the ball and spins around, scanning, as if deciphering the celestial scene.
Through a dung beetle’s compound eyes, stars appear as blobs, not as points of light. But those same eyes are more sensitive than ours to dim objects like the dappled patterns of the Milky Way.
After its spinning scan, a beetle rolls its ball in a straight line away from the dung pile for a few minutes, on a random heading. (This seems to minimize the likelihood that two beetles will meet, which often results in a fight.) Dr. Dacke found that the beetles seem to keep themselves rolling straight by confirming that the intragalactic scene they were heading toward still matched the earlier reference image.
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